Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is chairman of the Likud party, and Likud Central Committee Chairman Haim Katz agreed Sunday night to hold a party leadership primary within six weeks.
Netanyahu and Katz's decision did not touch upon whether the primary election will be held before the dissolution of the Knesset on December 11, when the Knesset's mandate to form a government ends, or after.
The announcement follows calls from Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar to hold a primary before the Knesset dissolves, and if he wins, to immediately establish a government with Kahol Lavan without holding a third general election.
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Netanyahu has yet to decide whether he prefers a speedy election pitting him against Sa'ar or to waiting until the Knesset dissolves before Israelis go to polls again. Either way, Likud's central committee will meet next Thursday to discuss canceling primary elections for the party's Knesset slate, in the event that a snap vote for the party leadership will be held. Aside from the issue of primaries, Likud has made no progress in its coalition negotiations.
Sa'ar submitted an official request for a snap leadership primary to Katz on Sunday morning, after Sa'ar described Netanyahu's response to his indictment – the prime minister called it an "attempted coup" – as "wrong and irresponsible."
In the letter to the Central Committee Chairman, Sa'ar said "This move has the power to prevent Israel's decline into unnecessary third elections, which Prime Minister Netanyahu himself described as "letting the system go haywire."
Since a government can still be formed in the current Knesset, Sa'ar said, "there is a chance to do to put an end to the political crisis that has been going on for as long as a year."
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The Likud party stated on its Twitter account Sunday night that most of Likud's ministers, "who represent the vast majority of Likud's positions, expressed unequivocal support for Prime Minister Netanyahu." After naming party figures who stand with Netanyahu, among them Amir Ohana, David Amsalem, Miri Regev and Nir Barkat, it continued, "the media is hiding the incredible support of Likud for Netanyahu, in an attempt to distort reality. Fake news!"